Home Travel GuidesDestination Guides TRAVEL GUIDE: Missouri, USA


The birthplace of Route 66, Missouri has exciting cities, unspoilt nature and fantastic wines.

by Rupert Parker

Missouri is one of those destinations that doesn’t make for instant recognition, but mention St Louis and Kansas City and people understand where you’re talking about. Each city sits on either side of the state, both with a long Jazz history and now are reinventing themselves. A  detour south between the two of them takes you into wine country,  then through the home of Route 66 and ends up in the Ozark Mountains.

Kansas City

Kansas City

Kansas City is experiencing something of a rebirth with a new sense of optimism throughout. Downtown is sprouting hotels, Maine Street has a free trolley bus and the riverside is undergoing huge redevelopment.

Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium

While zoos have been declining in Europe, the Kansas City Zoo has just added a state-of-the art Aquarium on its huge site spanning over 80 hectares. Home to more than 1700 animals, there are distinct sections allocated to different regions of the world. Africa is particularly impressive, featuring a savanna where elephants, giraffes, zebras, and antelopes roam freely. Even better a chair lift allows you to complete an African Sky Safari.

Rock Island Bridge

Built in 1905 this railway bridge crosses the Kansas River connecting Missouri and Kansas. It fell out of use in the 1970’s, rusting away, until Mike Zeller had the idea of siting a restaurant there. The project grew and when it opens later this year it will be a unique entertainment complex providing music, dining, coffee shops and bars. It’s the first of its kind in the world and will definitely become a must-see.

National WW1 Museum and Memorial

The Liberty Memorial Tower, completed in 1926 is an iconic structure that rises 217 feet above the city. Built into the hill below is the WW1 Museum and a glass bridge suspended over a field of 9000 red poppies takes you into two massive galleries. The first provides an overview of the war’s causes whilst the second explores the war itself. Weapons, uniforms and interactive displays bring the history to life.

Union Station

Sitting just below the Memorial is Union Station, opened in 1914 and once one of the busiest stations in the country. It’s huge and features a majestic Grand Hall with 95-foot ceilings, adorned with three 3,500-pound chandeliers and a six-foot-wide clock. It closed in 1985 but has now been completely reinvented as a bustling cultural centre with exhibitions and several restaurants and cafes. You can even catch an Amtrak train from here.


The story of Route 66 begins in Springfield in 1926, when officials gathered to thrash out the name for the new highway that would connect Chicago to Santa Monica. Examples of the city’s Route 66 heritage can be found throughout the town, starting at the History Museum on the Square.

The Rockwood Motor Court tourist camp has been restored but the Rail Haven Motel has been in continous business since 1938. There’s the College Street Café, a restored diner, serving quintessential highway dishes with the Route 66 classic car museum next door.

Even better you can drive west on part of the original road now quiet as it’s been bypassed by the highway.  A steel girder bridge leads to Gay Parita, a fully restored service station with vehicles and paraphernalia of the era. Slightly further on is Spencer Phillips 66 Service Station which includes a general store, filling station, cafe and barber shop.


Sitting in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Branson blends natural beauty, thrilling adventure parks and good old fashioned entertainment. It’s famously known as the “Live Music Show Capital of the World” with more than 50 theatres staging 100 shows a day. Take your pick out of country, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll and Broadway-style productions.

Yet Branson’s natural surroundings provide an ideal playground for outdoor enthusiasts. The pristine waters of Table Rock Lake are perfect for a variety of activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park offers 10,000 acres of forest hills and valleys with trails for hiking, biking, and horse riding.

For thrill seekers, the Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park has the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider, descending over half a mile at speeds of up to 50 mph.  More family friendly is Silver Dollar City, a 19th century theme park with over 40 rides, live entertainment and craft demonstrations. Highlights include the thrilling Time Traveller roller coaster, and the Marvel Cave, a natural underground wonder.


The Ozarks stretch north giving way to undulating countryside, around the Missouri River, perfect for vines. Hermann was founded in 1837 by German settlers and the town’s well-preserved 19th-century architecture and cobblestone streets reflects that heritage. They also brought their wine making expertise with them and the wine trail includes seven family owned vineyards. Stone Hill Winery is one of the best and offers tastings and tours of its cellars.

Hermann is also the location for numerous outdoor activities. The Katy Trail State Park, which stretches almost the length of the state, following the Missouri River, is perfect for biking and hiking. Even better, you don’t have to complete the entire 240 mile route in one go – you can tackle sections by hopping on and off the St Louis – Kansas City Amtrak train.

St Charles

East of Hermann, St Charles is near the starting point of the Katy Trail and is renowned for its well-preserved historical district, with Main Street being the crown jewel. It’s lined with charming 19th-century buildings, now housing an array of boutiques, antique shops, and restaurants.

From 1821 to 1826, St. Charles served as the capital of Missouri, and the state’s first government met in buildings on Main Street. These have now been restored and visitors can tour the historic rooms and learn about the early political struggles and triumphs of Missouri. Nearby is the Soda Museum which houses an impressive collection of memorabilia, including vintage bottles, advertising posters, and vending machines.

St Louis

On the western bank of the Mississippi River, St. Louis is a city often referred to as the “Gateway to the West”. This is commemorated with the Gateway Arch, a stainless steel monument standing 192m tall, built in 1965. It’s impressive enough, dominating the riverside, but inside a tram takes you to the top for stunning views of the city and the river.

City Museum

In the heart of downtown, the City has transformed the derelict International Shoe Company building into a wonderland of creativity and exploration. It opened in 1997, the brainchild of artist Bob Cassilly who used salvaged materials to create a fantasy playground for visitors of all ages. The museum continues to evolve, with new exhibits and features regularly added.

MonstroCity is a multi-story outdoor gym constructed from repurposed materials, including old airplanes, fire trucks, and a castle turret. The Enchanted Caves is a labyrinthine network of tunnels and passageways that wind through the museum’s interior. In the summer, the rooftop becomes an urban playground complete with Ferris wheel and school bus linked by a series of slides.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Founded in 1859, the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the oldest in the United States. One of the garden’s most iconic structures, the Climatron® is a geodesic dome that houses a lush tropical rainforest with more than 2,800 plants. Winding paths lead through dense foliage, including towering palms, exotic flowers, and rare orchids.

Scattered through the sprawling space include a Japanese Garden, English Woodland Garden and the Victorian District which includes the founder’s country home. inside the Linnean House, I’m lucky to witness a titan arum, or “corpse flower”, coming into bloom. The plant, native to Sumatra, Indonesia, unfurls a massive blossom that smells of rotting meat,  a short-lived bloom, lasting around 24 hours.


GO: Delta flies from London Heathrow to Kansas City and St Louis, with a change in either Atlanta or Detroit.





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